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Audrey Kupferberg: Christopher Plummer

Audrey Kupferberg

Canadian actor Christopher Plummer died earlier this year at age 91.  He was celebrated in many parts of the world for his work on stage and in films.  Most performers would have hung up their acting shoes by their tenth decade.  Not Plummer.  According to my friend Lois Farber, a longtime Plummer enthusast, the actor was in discussion with Stratford Festival stage director Des McAnuff to film King Lear in Newfoundland.

Plummer not only was esteemed.  He also was beloved.  A number of fans have chosen to tribute him by re-viewing his most popular performance as Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music. Nothing wrong with that.  He is splendid in the role and frankly there isn’t any or every mountain that I would not climb with him!  Nor any stream I would not ford, for that matter.

Plummer won an impressive number of nominations and awards through his long successful career.  He had several Academy Award nods and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Beginners, a 2010 movie about a gay man who chooses the more conventional heterosexual lifestyle of the mid-late 20th Century, and then, as an elderly widower embarks with joy and relish upon an openly gay way of life.  He was the oldest person ever to win an Oscar.  He was 82.

I re-saw Beginners a few days ago, and can report that this film is every bit as entertaining, sincere, and powerful as when I first saw it in a theater.  For those interested in taking a second of third look at their favorite Christopher Plummer films or sampling a few they never have seen, here is a list of a few particularly enjoyable movies that are not among his best known and that show his versatility.  Each of these films is available for home viewing, either on DVD, Blu-Ray, and/or streaming.

In 1979, Plummer played Sherlock Holmes in the serial killer mystery, Murder By Decree.  James Mason is Dr. Watson, and the two plod through the dark Victorian streets of London’s Whitechapel.  They go after dodgy policemen and the questionable activities of the Freemasons. The film is a delight for those who like atmospheric detective stories.

Lily in Love, from 1984, co-stars Plummer and Maggie Smth in an adaptation of Ferenc Molnar’s witty and romantic comedy, The Guardsman.  Plummer plays an egocentric Broadway star who wants to play the lead in a newly-written film by his famous playwright wife. When he can’t get the role honestly, he disguises himself as a blonde Italian romeo and winds up being the other man in a romance with his own wife. But it doesn’t end there.

When Plummer became an octogenarian, his creative juices actually seemed to have flowed more than ever. He recorded live stage performances that are breath-taking to watch.  If you head to the Stratford Ontario Festival website (stratfordfestival.ca), an inexpensive subscription will make available Plummer as Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and as Caesar in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra.  He also recorded his title performance onstage in Barrymore, and this film is extraordinary for how he manages to depict the charming, brash, alcoholic John Barrymore in his later years.  When one sees Plummer as Barrymore, one sees the full muscle of both legendary actors.

One of his last films is The Last Full Measure, from 2019, where he plays the elderly father of an unrecognized Vietnam War hero whose comrades struggle with the U.S. Government to award the slain soldier a Medal of Honor.  Plummer has several brief scenes that show that as he turned ninety, he never lost his abilities, charm, nor any of his extraordinary on-screen, onstage power. 

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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